Графични страници
PDF файл

tions is good, the rhyme adds little to it; and if bad, it will not be in the power of the rhyme to recommend it. I am afraid that great numbers of those who admire the incomparable Hudibras, do it more on account of these doggerel rhymes, than of the parts that really deserve admiration. I am sure I have heard the

Pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,

Was beat with fist instead of a stick;

There was an ancient sage philosopher,
Who had read Alexander Ross over;

more frequently quoted, than the finest pieces of wit in the whole poem.


[blocks in formation]

THERE is no kind of false wit which has been so recommended by the practice of all ages, as that which consists in a jingle of words, and is comprehended under the general name of punning It is, indeed, impossible to kill a weed, which the soil has a natural disposition to produce. The seeds of punning are in the minds of all men, and though they may be subdued by reason, reflection, and good sense, they will be very apt to shoot up in the greatest genius, that is not broken and cultivated by the rules of Imitation is natural to us, and when it does not raise the 701. v --8*


mind to poetry, painting, music, or other more noble a often breaks out in puns and quibbles.

Aristotle, in the eleventh chapter of his book of rhetor scribes two or three kinds of puns, which he calls parag among the beauties of good writing, and produces instand them out of some of the greatest authors in the Greek to Cicero has sprinkled several of his works with puns, and i book where he lays down the rules of oratory, quotes abun of sayings as pieces of wit, which also upon examination arrant puns. But the age in which the pun chiefly flouri was the reign of king James the first. That learned mo was himself a tolerable punster, and made very few bisho privy-counsellors that had not some time or other signa themselves by a clinch or a conundrum. It was therefore in age that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity. It had b been admitted into merry speeches and ludicrous composit but was now delivered with great gravity from the pulpi pronounced in the most solemn manner at the council table. greatest authors, in their most serious works, made frequent of puns. The sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the tragedie Shakespear, are full of them. The sinner was punned into re ance by the former, as in the latter nothing is more usual to see a hero weeping and quibbling for a dozen lines togeth I must add to these great authorities, which seem to given a kind of sanction to this piece of false wit, that all writers of rhetoric have treated of punning with very grea spect, and divided the several kinds of it into hard names, are reckoned among the figures of speech, and recommende ornaments in discourse. I remember a country school-maste my acquaintance told me once, that he had been in company a gentleman whom he looked upon to be the greatest Parag matist among the moderns. Upon inquiry, I found my lear

friend had dined that day with Mr. Swan, the famous punster; and desiring him to give me some account of Mr. Swan's conver sation, he told me that he generally talked in the Paranomasia,' that he sometimes gave into the Plocè, but that in his humble opinion he shined most in the Antanaclasis.

I must not here omit, that a famous university of this land was formerly very much infested with puns; but whether or no this might not arise from the fens and marshes in which it was situated, and which are now drained, I must leave to the determination of more skilful naturalists.

After this short history of punning, one would wonder how it should be so entirely banished out of the learned world, as it is at present, especially since it had found a place in the writings of the most ancient polite authors. To account for this we must consider, that the first race of authors who were the great heroes in writing, were destitute of all rules and arts of criticism; and for that reason, though they excel later writers in greatness of genius, they fall short of them in accuracy and correctness. The moderns cannot reach their beauties, but can avoid their imperfections. When the world was furnished with these authors of the first eminence, there grew up another set of writers, who gained themselves a reputation by the remarks which they made on the works of those who preceded them. It was one of the employments of these secondary authors, to distinguish the several kinds of wit by terms of art, and to consider them as more or less perfect, according as they were founded in truth. It is no wonder, therefore, that even such authors as Isocrates, Plato, and Cicero, should have such little blemishes as are not to be met

1 Paranomasia―using words that resemble each other in sound. Plocè -a play upon words by repeating them in various ways, of which Symploce Anadiplosis are varieties. Antanaclasis-use of the same word in different Ranses.-G.

with in authors of a much inferior character, who have written since those several blemishes were discovered. I do not find that there was a proper separation made between puns and true wit by any of the ancient authors, except Quintilian and Longinus. But when this distinction was once settled, it was very natural for all men of sense to agree in it. As for the revival of this false wit, it happened about the time of the revival of letters; but as soon as it was once detected, it immediately vanished and disappeared. At the same time there is no question, but as it has sunk in one age, and rose in another, it will again recover itself in some distant period of time, as pedantry and ignorance shall prevail upon wit and sense. And, to speak the truth, I do very much apprehend, by some of the last winter's productions, which had their sets of admirers, that our posterity will in a few years degenerate into a race of punsters: at least, a man may be very excusable for any apprehensions of this kind, that has seen acrostics handed about the town with great secresy and applause; to which I must also add a little epigram called the Witch's Prayer, that fell into verse when it was read either backward or forward, excepting only that it cursed one way and blessed the other. When one sees there are actually such painstakers among our British wits, who can tell what it may end in? If we must lash one another, let it be with the manly strokes of wit and satire; for I am of the old philosopher's opinion, that if I must suffer from one or the other, I would rather it should be from the paw of a lion, than the hoof of an ass. I do not speak this out of any spirit of party. There is a most crying dulness on both sides. I have seen Tory acrostics, and Whig anagrams, and do not quarrel with either of them, because they are Whigs or Tories, but because they are anagrams and acrostics.


But to return to punning. Having pursued the history of a from its original to its downfall, I shall here define it to be a

conceit arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound but differ in the sense. The only way, therefore, to try a piece of wit, is to translate it into a different language: if it bears the test, you may pronounce it true; but if it vanishes in the experiment, you may conclude it to have been a pun. In short, one may say of a pun as the countryman described his nightingale, that is, vox et præterea nihil; a sound, and nothing but a sound. On the contrary, one may represent true wit by the description which Aristenetus makes of a fine woman; when she is dressed, she is beautiful; when she is undressed, she is beautiful: or, as Mercerus has translated it more emphatically, Induitor, formosa est: Exuitur, ipsa forma est.1 C

No. 62. FRIDAY, MAY 11.

Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.

Sound judgment is the ground of writing well.



MR. Locke has an admirable reflection upon the difference of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavours to shew the reason why they are not always the talents of the same person. His words are as follow: 'And hence, perhaps, may be given some reason of that common observation, that men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt memories, have not always the clearest judgment, or deepest reason. For wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance and congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; judgment

1 Dressed she is beautiful: indressed she is beauty's self.-C.


« ПредишнаНапред »